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Bone-marrow drive set for singer, 11, with leukemia

Shannon Tavarez, only 11 years old, has a voice so powerful she matches any of the adults who have shared the stage with her in the Broadway musical "The Lion King."

Since April, Shannon hasn't gone near the stage nor sung her signature song, "The Circle of Life." She has been in and out of Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, battling an aggressive cancer - acute myelogenous leukemia, AML. She goes back to the hospital Monday for more chemotherapy.

But Sunday, Shannon will share a different kind of spotlight. She and Penny Lindenberg, a young mom of two from Ridge, will be the focus of a bone-marrow donor drive. Lindenberg was diagnosed with AML a year ago but has yet to find a donor match.

The drive, at which volunteers supply a cheek swab, is between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church, 110 Myrtle Ave., Port Jefferson.

The dual drive is the brainchild of college student Nicole Parisi of Mount Sinai. Parisi, 20, who attends Saint Leo University in Florida, said she was inspired to help people with leukemia after reading stories in Newsday. She's since run several bone-marrow donor drives. This summer she's interning at DKMS Americas, a bone-marrow registry in Manhattan.

"When I read those stories on the front page of Newsday about the cute little girl Julianna, I knew I wanted to help," she said, referring to Julianna Buttner, 7, of Farmingville, who received a bone-marrow transplant earlier this year from her twin. Parisi was among the hundreds who took part in a bone-marrow donor drive for Julianna last year.

"The Lion King" cast held their own small donor drive Friday in Manhattan for Shannon, who plays the role of Nala.

Her mom, Odiney Brown of Queens, said her daughter's illness began with what seemed to be the flu. "The first round of chemotherapy knocked out 75 percent of the cancer cells," Brown said. "But because of the kind of cancer she has, a bone-marrow transplant is inevitable."

She calls her daughter's voice a gift: "It gives you goose bumps to hear her. The first time I heard her [sing] she just blew me away."


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